REVIEW: Red by Kait Nolan
Dear Ms. Nolan:
This book came to my attention when it made the slate of finalists in the DABWAHA tournament. The tournament entries are a compilation of nominations from the DA reviewers and Sarah Wendell from Smart Bitches. Sarah loved this book, particularly your handling of Elodie, the main female protagonist.
This is a Young Adult shapeshifter story narrated in alternating first person. While I enjoyed the book, the romance in the story is premised on the fated mate concept and because of this the emotional conflict lacked energy for me. Elodie was the only female shapeshifter in the story and Sawyer was the only young male shapeshifter around. There were not any other individuals for either to hook up with and nothing to keep them apart; certainly not when destiny and otherworldly forces had deemed them a couple. Circumstance and biology are the primary drivers for the relationship.
The only way the fated mate trope really works for me these days is when the two struggle with the mate bond. Sawyer was thrilled that Elodie was a shapeshifter and Elodie was attracted to the new young hottie. This left only external conflict to drive the story. Elodie believes that she is cursed and when her wolf rises, she will turn into a ravening beast who will destroy everyone around her, including her beloved father. Because contact with the opposite sex tends to accelerate the maturation of her wolf, according to a cryptic note left by her mother, Elodie and her father live by a strict set of rules that isolates Elodie from the rest of her peers.
The in depth look at the pack life and the wolf dynamic was the best part of the story and despite the clichéd characters, the writing makes them relatable. Sawyer McGrath and his father are struggling to get along with one another after the killing of Sawyer’s mom at the hand of a farmer. Sawyer’s mom was out running as a wolf and strayed into unsafe territory. Sawyer’s dad refused to kill the farmer and Sawyer is now trying to deal with his father’s inaction and his own role in his father’s two person pack.
Elodie and Sawyer are thrown together for the summer when Elodie gets a position as an intern for Sawyer’s father, a biologist studying wolf patterns in East Tennessee.
The conflict lacks some power because we, as the reader, know Elodie is incorrect based on the information imparted by Sawyer. Her fear of becoming a monster would have made a bigger impact if the story was told from her point of view alone, but seeing Sawyer and his father control their beasts and knowing, through Sawyer, that Elodie’s concerned were misinformed, lessened the drama and intrigue. Perhaps because of this a suspense plot is thrown on top such that Elodie’s life is endangered. The more intriguing emotional conflict arises between the two kids and their fathers. They both love their fathers deeply yet resent them. Sawyer is questioning his father’s position as an alpha, challenging those bonds. Elodie loves her father; but strains at their bonds that keep them isolated and separate.
The weakness, beyond the romance, where when the characterizations fell into predictable patterns. Elodie is the weird loner and her main nemesis is part of the “Barbie Squad”. Yet, for all her weirdness, Elodie has all sorts of young men attracted to her including one of the most popular guys in town.
Amber Cooper, Deanna Jacobs, and Lindy Zimmerman were all part of the popular crowd in my class. Cheerleaders. Blonde. Beautiful. Bitchy. Pick your favorite teen movie and apply the popular girl stereotype, that was the Barbie Squad. Hey, the stereotype exists for a reason. And naturally, the favorite school year occupation of the BS—pun absolutely intended—was giving me crap. Because I was weird. Because I kept to myself. Because, according to popular rumor and the fact that I shot down the few guys with enough guts to approach me, I was an ice queen.
I was surprised that Elodie and Sawyer weren’t tipped off to each other’s shapeshifting given the keenness of their noses. Elodie in one early scene nearly passes out from the testosterone smell of a teen boy; she scents Sawyer’s arousal; Sawyer follows Elodie’s scent trail home after their first encounter in the woods. Yet neither clue into the other’s nature until later. For the most part, the world building seemed solid and consistent. Even though the story took no chances, it was still a fun read. C+
Note for the moms: There is frank sexual talk but no explicit acts.